MADISON, Wis. — The Madison Mallards season came to a close Monday night, falling to the Battle Creek Bombers 9-8 in the first round of the Northwoods League playoffs.
Left fielder Josh Stowers (Louisville) went 4-for-4 at the plate, giving Madison the early lead with a two-run home run in the second inning. But Heath Renz (UW | Whitewater) struggled on the mound, finishing with three innings of six-run baseball. He walked two batters in the loss as well.
The Bombers would grab a 4-2 lead in the third inning on a three-run blast into the Duck Blind from outfielder Dean Miller. Madison’s star outfielder and RBI leader, Zach Jarrett, tried to save it from going over the wall, but his momentum carried him out of the field of play.
Stowers’ second deep ball of the night came in the bottom half of that same inning, driving in three and recapturing the lead, 5-4. His performance stemmed from a chance he made before the game.
“In batting practice, I tried something else out and it worked, so I just took it to the game and looked for something to hit and thankfully I hit two home runs,” Stowers recalled sheepishly. “I really wasn’t trying to hit home runs. I was trying to hit the ball hard somewhere and two times it ended up over the fence.”
Battle Creek went on a tear, scoring five runs in the next three innings. Madison’s defensive errors aided the Bombers in their efforts to extend the lead. It became 9-5 in favor of Battle Creek after a ball thrown from catcher Joe Stefanki got past third baseman Nelson Maldonado in an attempt to hold a runner 90 feet from home.
“We just looked at each other and said ‘We came in here as a group and told each other we weren’t leaving without a fight,'” Stefanki said after the game. “That fight was given in the ninth [inning] and we came out with some positive attributes.”
The Mallards would commit three total errors and struggle to push runners across the plate as it got into the later innings. In the bottom of the seventh inning, however, Stowers provided a spark with yet another RBI, making it 9-6, Battle Creek.
From there, it was center fielder Cameron Frost who delivered hope for the Mallards. His two-run blast in the eighth brought Madison to within one run. After a pitching change by Battle Creek, Madison was able to load the bases in the bottom of the 9th with one out left.
But Battle Creek would secure the final out anyway and advance to face the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. Looking back on the season, Stefanki sees only positives moving forward for the Mallards.
“[Team president] Vern [Stenman] and [team owner] Steve [Schmitt] do a great job here. This place runs fabulously. We all think it’s the best team in the nation to play for in the summer with the fan base. The fans are great, the team’s great, and they recruit with a mindset of bringing a family together.”